Mention made-for-TV movies to most people and you'll be greeted with
blank stares at best, or groans and retching noises at worst. These
movies have the reputation of being poorly written, badly acted, and hurriedly
made, and that reputation is well deserved for the most part. Even
so, there have been a few really good movies that were originally shown
on the small screen, and one of the best is The Night Stalker.
Written by Richard Matheson (the writer of Duel, another great TV
original, a number of classic Twilight Zone episodes, and scores
of other works,) at the time that it aired in 1972, The Night
Stalker was the highest rated TV movie ever broadcast by a wide margin.
It had a 32.2 rating and a 54 share, blowing away the previous record holder,
Song. Of course, a movie that pulls in viewers like that deserves
a sequel, and this movie was no exception. In 1973, Darren McGavin
reprised his role as the inquisitive news reporter in The Night Strangler,
another good movie also penned by Matheson. Now MGM has released
a new version of both of these classic movies on a single DVD at a very
The Night Stalker:
Carl Kolchak is a top notch reporter who has a propensity for getting
fired. Once running with the big dogs working in New York and Chicago,
now he finds himself writing for the local paper in Las Vegas. At
first he's miffed about being called back from his vacation to work on
a run of the mill murder story until he turns up some odd facts.
It seems that the woman who was killed was drained of all blood, but none
was found at the murder scene. When another woman turns up dead,
also missing her blood and having a pair of bite marks on her neck identical
to the first victims, Kolchak thinks that there is a manic loose who things
he's a vampire.
This is the last thing the police want to hear. After all, Vegas
runs on tourism, and news of a 'vampire killer' would keep the gamblers
away. Exerting pressure on his editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland,)
all of Kolchak's stories are heavily altered or killed. This galls
the reporter to no end, since he sees this as his chance to move back up
to the big time. So he keeps on the case, but as the evidence mounts,
Kolchak realizes that his theory is wrong. There isn't a crazed killer
on the loose who thinks he's a vampire. The killer really is a vampire.
This is a great film, arguably the best made-for-TV movie ever broadcast.
I remember watching it when it was first aired, begging my mother to let
me stay up past my bed time to see the conclusion. (She let me...thanks
mom!) I was enthralled with the film then, and it still holds up
pretty well today. Yes, it is a little dated, but that doesn't interfere
with enjoying the movie.
The way the movie was set up, with Kolchak narrating a story that he's
already lived as the events unfold for the viewer works very well.
It gives the impression of a 1st person narrative, but also lets us see
things that Kolchak found out later. Kolchak is also able to tell
us what he's thinking without having to resort to conversations with strained
dialog to get this information to the viewer.
The most striking thing about seeing this film is that it is still scary
and suspenseful all these years later. The movie has several eerie
moments in it that work quite well. From the dead woman laying in
a sand pit with no footprints around her to the climax in a dark, quiet
house, the film was able to create a mood, and hold it for the whole production.
It is interesting to see how the creators were able to take the limitations
of a TV movie, (no sex, little violence, small budget,) and use them it
to their advantage. The lack of sex and gore doesn't hamper the eeriness
of the film, it actually enhances it. And the almost total lack of
special effects helps the show stand up when viewed today. There are not
any hokey transforming into a bat scenes, or obviously fake severed heads.
The effects that were used for such things in the 70's would have looked
horrible today and caused viewers to stop suspending their disbelief.
As it is, this is an easy movie to just sit back and enjoy.
The acting for all the characters is very good. Many of the supporting
players were long time Hollywood staples, and they do a great job with
even the slightest roles. Darren McGavin really makes the movie with
the job he does portraying Kolchak. He gives his character a moral
reason for wanting the truth to get out, but also adds that element of
desperation to get one more huge story. This makes Kolchak
a three dimensional character instead of a crusading paladin.
That isn't to say the movie is perfect, because it isn't. While
Barry Atwater does a great job as the silent vampire Janos Skorzeny through
most of the film, his performance does go a little over the top at the
climax. Some of the plot devices seem quaint today also. The
press conferences where Kolchak is able to pound on the sherif's table
are pretty unrealistic, but the rest of the movie is so entertaining that
it is easy to overlook these minor flaws.
The Night Strangler:
Carl Kolchak has hit the skids again. He finds himself in Seattle
where he's trying to convince anyone that he really did find and kill a
vampire in Las Vegas the previous year. His old editor from Las Vegas,
Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) hears him ranting in a bar and against his
better judgement offers him a job, mainly because he feels sorry for him.
Tony gives Kolchak a story about a belly dancer who is found strangled
in an alley. It turns out that she wasn't only strangled, but her
neck was crushed, traces of rotting flesh were found on her throat, and
some of her blood was missing. When a second girl is killed in the
same way, Kolchak realizes that something odd is going on. Digging
into the newspaper archives, Kolchak finds out that similar murders have
happened every 21 years. Six women are strangled over a period of
18 days, and then the murders stop. This pattern has been going on,
every 21 years, for nearly a century. The reporter knows that there
is only a short period of time to find the murderer before he disappears
again, but he finds it hard to convince his editor, much less the police,
that an ageless killer with super strength has been stalking Seattle for
This movie was really good, especially for a sequel. In a way,
this one works better than the original. Since the viewer doesn't
know what type of monster that Kolchak is tracking, there is a little more
mystery in the story. It had more humor as well, which they were
able to work into the narrative without being distracting or seeming silly.
The look on McGavin's face when he brings his article on the long history
of identical strangulations in Seattle to his editor is priceless.
Of course, there is a good amount of suspense in this movie too.
The ending where Kolchak stalks the killer through the Seattle underground
is just as creepy as the ending to the first film.
The acting is just as good in this film also, though Kolchak's character
is a little more two dimensional. He no longer has that burning desire
to return to the big time, he is just happy to have a job. Not so
happy that he'll play along with watering down his stories though.
The script is very similar to the original movie, with Kolchak narrating,
but the events now take place in the present. This movie, like the
first, had the police wanting to cover up the evidence, going so far as
to steal Kolchak's camera that has a picture of the killer on it.
I found this a little harder to swallow in Seattle than I did in Las Vegas,
but they do make the police Captain more intellegent and than in The
One thing I liked about watching this movie is that there are a lot
of guest stars. It's fun to see how many you can spot. John
Carradine, Al Lewis, Margaret Hamilton (Wizard of Oz) and Wally
Cox, in his last movie, are just some of the actors who appeared in this
These two movies are presented on one double sided DVD. I was
glad that they didn't try to squeeze both films onto one side, though people
who store their DVD in a mega-changer might not feel the same way.
Anchor Bay previously released these two movies on a single DVD, but that
version has been out of print for a while, and I was not able to locate
a copy to compare with this new version.
The two channel English soundtrack has held up pretty well over the
years. The dialog is clear, as is the incidental music. Some
of the music in the first film, especially during the fight scene by the
pool, is a little corny and dated but it still sounds crisp. The
audio isn't very dynamic, but that's to be expected for a 30 year old TV
movie. Any hiss was inaudible at normal levels and there wasn't any
I was pleasantly surprised that the quality of the video for both films.
The colors were accurate, and there was an excellent amount of detail.
The dark scenes in the original movie, such as when Kolchak is creeping
through the vampire's house, have just the right amount of contrast giving
the film an eerie look, but not being so dark that you can't tell what's
going on. The sequel was a little darker with details harder to make
out, but still acceptable. As far as digital defects go, there is
a little aliasing, with Kolchak's pinstriped suit causing some problems,
but this is minor. All in all a good looking disc.
There are a couple of extras included with these movies. On The
Night Stalker side is a very good 14½ minute interview with
Dan Curtis who produced both films. Curtis come to fame as the creator
of Dark Shadows, and he reminisces about how he got involved with
the project, meeting author Richard Matheson, and getting all the actors
together. At the end of the interview he has some interesting comments
on what it takes to get a TV movie made today and what it was like in the
The Night Strangler side has more conversations with Dan Curtis
in Directing the Night Strangler. This is a 7½ minute
interview, filmed at the same time as the other interview, where Dan talks
about how he got into show business and why he started directing.
A good featurette, though I wish it had been a little longer.
These are nice, but I would have loved a commentary track by
writer Richard Matheson and star Darren McGavin. There was also a
sequence that was deleted from The Night Strangler where Kolchak
tracks down a reporter (played by George Tobais) who covered the previous
cycle of murders. I was hoping that this scene would be included,
but unfortunately it wasn't.
Although these movies were both made-for-TV, they are both excellent.
The Night Stalker is one of the best TV movies ever broadcast, and its
sequel is just as entertaining. Together they make a fabulous DVD.
Highly Recommended. Hopefully the short lived TV series that
these two movies spawned will be released soon also.